I looked around after walking and walking and walking. I was in the same place. How could this be? I had to be making progress. The sweat pouring out of my body told me so. The ache in my muscles could not have been for nothing, could it? But it was excruciatingly obvious I was in the same spot from which I started at least forty-five minutes and two miles before. Same scenery, same building, same place. In spite of great effort I had made no progress at all. Then I stepped off the treadmill. In my basement.
Did I getcha? Actually I did make progress because my purpose was not to get anywhere, but to get exercise. In fact, it was very worthwhile because I prayed for a while and then read a great book while I walked. If I had been trying to make my way to a specific, physical destination, the treadmill was wrong. When we want to cover ground, we need to get off the treadmill to travel on solid ground.
Our dog hasn’t been for a walk in a while. She loves going for jaunts. She covers twice as much ground as we do, back and forth, back and forth sniffing out varmints. I thought about putting her on the treadmill to get some exercise. She’s looking pretty lethargic, you know. I explained to Sheila, "Just put her on slow and let her walk. As she gets used to it we can speed it up … and see what happens." I thought I was being helpful. Well, sure it might throw her right into the washing machine, but hey, no pain, no gain. Sheila wasn’t amused.
If you’re like most people I see these days, you’re on a treadmill, too. Different from the one in my basement, but just as draining. It’s called Christmas. You know, the season of joy to the world, glad tidings, peace on earth and good will toward men. That’s not what I saw at Wal-Mart. It’s more like grab from the world, sad tidings, give me a piece of the earth and my will against other men. Especially during the wrestling match at 5:00 am on Black Friday by the $49 DVD players.
Does anyone believe this is an accident? That the season that is supposed to celebrate the coming of God Almighty to the world in human flesh has turned into a treadmill to nowhere? That wears us out and leaves us spent? Could it be it is a carefully designed strategy to cause us to miss that which is of utmost value? Think about it – if you attempted to prevent people from experiencing "God with us" what would you do? Wouldn’t you distract, disrupt, hurry, overwhelm, and appeal to their selfishness?
Immediately below our relationship with God, what is most important during the Christmas season? People. But what do the pressures of our culture cause us to zero in on? Material possessions and activity. Who made it a rule that we have to spend money that we don’t have, to do things that will wear us out and strain relationships with people we don’t take time to love? Who said that the tree, the decorations, the cookies, the dinner, the presents, the cards, the stuff all have to be perfect? How many times have we gotten upset with very people we are doing all this stuff for because the stuff didn’t go the way we thought it should go? Sure, we all have things we have to do, but does it really have to be like this? I have a suggestion.
We have 8 shopping days until Christmas. During these days, let’s create a conspiracy to value the really valuable – God and the people in our lives. Slow down, eliminate some of the activity, decrease the focus on material stuff and deeply enjoy the purpose of the season. Take time to just sit with God, hum some carols, (sorry, the musak at the mall doesn’t count), and allow God to refresh us. Make time to be with, really be with, not just occupying the same area with our loved ones. Realize it is okay to let some of the stuff go. Really, it will be okay. Pause to realize how fragile life is, that it is important to value our loved ones today.
Part of the problem is that we take it for granted that people will always be with us, so we don’t take time to value them. We get caught up with stuff, climb up onto the Christmas treadmill until we realize the "moments" that could have been during the season have passed us by. We didn’t make any progress at all in our relationships; in fact we made some of them worse.
I hope the following anonymous poem provides perspective. I wish I’d written it.
If I Knew
If I knew it would be the last time that I’d see you fall asleep,
I would tuck you in more tightly and pray the Lord your soul to keep.
If I knew it would be the last time that I see you walk out the door,
I would give you a hug and kiss and call you back for one more.
If I knew it would be the last time I’d hear your voice lifted up in praise,
I would videotape each action and word so I could play them back day after day.
If I knew it would be the last time I could spare an extra minute,
To stop and say, "I love you," instead of assuming you would KNOW it.
If I knew it would be the last time I would be there to share your day,
Well, I’m sure you’ll have many more, so I can let just this one slip away.
For surely there’s always tomorrow to make up for an oversight,
And we always get a second chance to make everything right.
There will always be another day to say, "I love you,"
And certainly there’s another chance to say our "Anything I can do?"
But just in case I might be wrong and today is all I get,
I’d like to say how much I love you and I hope we never forget.
Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, young or old alike,
And today may be the last chance you get to hold your loved one tight.
So if you’re waiting for tomorrow, why not today?
For if tomorrow never comes you’ll surely regret the day,
That you didn’t take that extra time for a smile, a hug, or a kiss,
And you were too busy to grant someone what turned out to be their last wish.
So hold your loved ones close today and whisper in their ears
Tell them how much you love them and that you’ll always hold them dear.
Take time to say, "I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you, It’s okay."
And if tomorrow never comes, you’ll have no regrets about today.
Let’s celebrate this Christmas and New Year’s season by valuing what is truly valuable.
"Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. 5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath. Selah" Psalm 39:4-5 (NIV)
"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)